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Looking after number one

December 08, 2020

I grew up in a very traditional Asian family surrounded by a westernised lifestyle. This means that I often struggle to find my place and figure out which culture I belong to. I often find myself feeling like I let those around me down. I can't please everyone and meet what's expected of me – whether that be my Asian family or my white partner, friends and even colleagues.

One of the things I have learned and continue to practice even though it's challenging a lot of the times is "self-care". Being a child of BAME parents means there are certain cultural expectations that I need to meet. Born and raised in the UK, however, means you assimilate and are used to an entirely different culture that you equally relate to, but these can be conflicting.

I have found that trying to manage and balance the two cultures and trying to please everyone is EXHAUSTING. And frankly, it takes a toll on my mental health. It makes me anxious and stressed. All I want is for everyone to be happy. But I've learned that you can't make everyone happy all of the time and sometimes, it's okay to put yourself first. Now, what I'm about to say can apply to everyone – regardless of your ethnicity or culture. You would practice self-care in the form of exercising, meditation and praying or therapy to maintain your mental health. Similarly, you need to learn to practice self-care when it comes to managing the expectations of those around you, and that means putting yourself and your happiness first.

It's learning to differentiate between what's genuinely good for you, and what only looks good and pleases others. It's understanding that your independence and choices may hurt your family. Still, it won't actually kill them (no matter how much they love to be overdramatic and say it will). Ultimately, your choice to please everyone else and not put yourself first actually hurts you more. You hold onto that feeling for a very long time, and it can even turn into resentment.

It isn't wrong to love and embrace where you come from, but at the same time hate the way you've been treated and are expected to behave as a result of archaic cultural norms. It's hard because putting yourself first or self-care may not look like what our white counterparts consider it be. But being told your friends aren't as important as your family or your partner is not quite right, but choosing your own friendships or partner anyway is a form of self-care. Knowing that those people make you feel good, and happy because they understand you and support you is critical to self-care.

Self-care is choosing a career that is not expected of you, like pursuing a creative skill and making a living out of it. You can secretly pursue dreams and forego the support of your family if it's right for you. It can be small things, like pretending our phone isn't working right now when you just don't feel like talking. Or not posting/being tagged in photos on Instagram because you don't want that really annoying gossip-spreading Aunty to see it.

It's great to be confident, strong and put your foot down when it's about putting yourself first. But sometimes, it's letting our parents think they have a say in a decision we've already made. It can save you from having those difficult conversations that turn into emotional blackmail or being made to feel like the worst person in the world for choosing you above them. Or even keeping quiet during a discussion when you want to speak up and disagree as what's the point when they're not willing to understand or even agree to disagree.

Learning to manage expectations and hold your own hand is vital, regardless of what culture you grew up in. It is about loving your family and where you came from, but also recognising what's positive and toxic. Sometimes, it's even knowing that you'll be reprimanded for chasing your dreams, pursuing your happiness and choosing yourself. Putting yourself first is knowing this, but deciding you anyway, whilst learning to manage the guilt of feeling like a spoiled child or being made to feel like you're a sell-out.